Revealed: 32 years of benefit payment failure by the Department of Work and Pensions

DWP celebrating 32 years of inaccurate accounting

Yesterday while all eyes were on Boris Johnson’s ” Build,Build, Build ” speech the Department for Work and Pensions slipped out their annual accounts for the last financial year.

In what looks like a classic “cover up ” job to bury bad news, the ministry probably did not want the world to know that their accounts had been censured for material inaccuracy for the 32nd year in a row.

The reason is the failure of the ministry to be able to account for unacceptable levels of fraud and error in the huge number of benefit payments. Billions of pounds have been overpaid to claimants through fraud and mistakes by claimants and errors by officials. And billions of pounds have been underpaid by officials to claimants because they have made mistakes in calculating people’s benefits.

The latest figures are a record for every year since John Moore, was social security secretary under Lady Thatcher in 1988.

It shows that ” Excluding State Pension, the estimated rate of overpayments has increased again to 4.8% (£4.5 billion) of estimated benefit expenditure, from a restated rate of 4.4% (£3.8 billion).

“The estimated rate of underpayments, excluding State Pension, has decreased to 2.0% (£1.9 billion), from its estimated rate of 2.2% (£1.9 billion) in 2018-19. The rate of overpayments in 2019-20 is the
highest estimate to date.”

The worst benefit is the new hated Universal Credit which has suffered from both overpayments and underpayments and claimants have to wait five weeks before they can get it. Since the payment depends on claimants’ monthly varying income the scope for inaccurate reporting of the money is large.

The report says: “For Universal Credit, the estimated rate of overpayments increased from 8.7% to 9.4%. This is the highest recorded overpayment rate for any benefit other than Tax Credits (administered by HMRC), which peaked at 9.7% in 2003-04.”

“Underpayments rates have fallen for Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance and Pension Credit, and the estimated rate for Housing Benefit has increased. Personal Independence Payment has the highest rate of underpayments at 3.8% of expenditure in 2019-20. This rate has not changed from 2018-19.”

But the small print of the report also reveals how the Department calculates this. It takes samples of benefit payments to arrive at these figures but the National Audit Office reveals that 61 per cent of the benefits paid out to claimants are based on recalculated estimates for the previous year.

Some other omissions are staggering. The Department has never checked whether payments are accurate for claimants on Disability Living Allowance for 16 years – last done in 2004-05.

More extraordinary the Department has never checked whether money paid out to 12 million pensioners is accurate or not since 2005 – that is 15 years ago.

Instead the department maintains there is no serious fraud or underpayments in pensions – calculating it as just £300 million out of an annual payment of £98.6 billion.

Given this year we had a case this year of a 94 year old pensioner being owed a staggering £117,000 because of 34 years of underpayments, I find this complacency mind blowing.

I also think the National Audit Office, as their auditors, is remiss in not asking for an update.

Next year’s estimate of benefit fraud and error is likely to even more out of kilter thanks to Covid 19 as the ministry have got rid of staff monitoring fraud to be able to pay out the 2.6 million claims for universal credit.

And although the department is said to be investigating 143,000 suspicious claims under Covid 19, it can’t follow them up because it can’t visit them at home.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said :

“I am concerned that fraud and error in benefit payments have risen again. Fraud and error have a real cost, both for those who face deductions from their income due to overpayments and because it reduces the public funds available for other purposes.

“As the Department takes on a set of unprecedented challenges arising from COVID-19 it is more important than ever that my qualification is not seen as business as usual and the Department responds in a cost-effective way to minimise risks of fraud and error.”

Next year I am certain will be the 33rd year the ministry accounts are questioned and found wanting.

New Film: The triple whammy horror facing 1950s born women

Today Backto60 launched the first of two campaigning films in the run up to their appeal against the judicial review decision in the Court of Appeal on July 21.

They aim to overturn the judicial review which rejected their claim for compensation and full restitution of their pension back to 60 which was rejected on all grounds by judges. They have been given permission by the Court of Appeal to appeal on all grounds.

The film shows how 50swomen – already waiting up to six years for their pensions – are now hit by the Covid-19 pandemic- forced to work in unsafe situations in their 60s in hospitals or care homes or left isolated facing mental health problems.

We now know through a report from the National Audit Office,Parliament’s financial watchdog, that 25,000 people were moved from hospital to care homes at the beginning of the pandemic without any health checks for Covid-19. No wonder so many died and Dr Bharat Pankhania, Senior Clinical Lecturer at University of Exeter Medical School, in the film condemns this as a disgrace.

The film quotes experts who have backed the campaign to point out how just how damaging the situation. You can follow them on Twitter here – @2020Comms @JackieJonesWal1 @ManzurHannah @DrDavinaLloyd1 @doctorshaib @NexusChambers @AnnaCCampaigns @SOS_Initiatives.

The overall picture is bleak – the combination of the pensions delay, austerity and now the virus- have made difficult lives even worse.

But there is also hope. Professor Jackie Jones points out that the UN Convention on the Elimation of Discrimination against Women – may well launch an inquiry into how badly the UK treated 50s women – shaming the country internationally.

The court case is likely to have to hear additional evidence on whether it was a really equal playing field if at the same time 4.6 million men over 60 are estimated by the Department for Work and Pensions to have had all their national insurance contributions paid by the government so they could get higher pensions. A government promise in the 1990s to extend this scheme to women for eight years after the change was introduced in 2010 was reneged on by the last Labour government and the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition.

The film directed by Jasper Warry at Hello Dear Productions is eminently watchable and the experts explain their points succinctly – my only apology is that you have to put up visually with me having a shaggy lockdown non hair cut!

Why Dominic Cummings, the Goddess of Chaos, won’t quit

The rare press conference in the garden of Downing Street at which Dominic Cummings explained why he was not going to resign over breaking lockdown rules

One of the extraordinary questions that have puzzled people is why Dominic Cummings – who has been in the centre of a storm over breaking Covid -19 lockdown regulations – has not been forced to quit.

Much of the speculation has centred round the PM’s weakness in not sacking him, despite over 90 Tory MPs attacking him, one minister resigning and widespread anger among the law abiding majority of the public. Even a collapse in Tory support has not led to it.

The answer has been staring people in the face. One of the issues I wrote in Byline Times – Dominic Cumming’s billion dollar brainbox – last week. While the pandemic was gaining pace, Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, gave Dominic Cummings £800m, for a project about which he has been campaigning for years – the setting up of a Downing Street Advance Research Projects Agency. Sunak described it as a “blue skies funding agency”.Who would want to quit when they have received such largesse for a pet project that they have slaved over for years?

In 2018, he wrote a 47-page document concluding that a British ARPA would cover research into “machine learning, robotics, energy, neuroscience, genetics, cognitive technologies… and, crucially, funding what now seem ‘crazy’ ideas just as the internet and quantum computers seemed ‘crazy’ before they became mainstream”.

Scientists would be given millions of pounds for unaccountable projects – some of which will fail – with the aim of changing Britain forever.

He also wanted to scrap European data protection laws which allow individuals to refuse access to their personal data on privacy grounds when they go to websites – allowing extensive data mining for venture capitalists who will exploit the new products to make billions of pounds.

Now, the second reason he will not go is that he wants either a “no deal” Brexit or for Europe to capitulate to the UK’s demands, so that Europe is no longer an integral working single market.

Both proposals – the ARPA scheme and No Deal Brexit – are potentially dangerous because they will cause chaos.

But I think that is exactly what Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson want – in fact Cummings relishes it.

Both are intelligent men. Both have degree – level knowledge of the classics and ancient history.

Both will know about ancient Greek mythology. One of the most ancient Greek goddesses is the goddess of chaos. chaos is an ancient Greek word and is the source of our English word. There is a useful website here about the ancient Greek history of chaos.

It says : “Chaos was the origin of everything and the very first thing that ever existed. It was a primordial void, which everything was created from including the universe and the Greek Gods. In ancient Greek, Chaos is translated as ‘the gaping void.’’

Here’s a simple YouTube video about it:

A simple Greek mythology guide to Chaos


chaos is an ancient Greek word and is the source of our English word.

Cummings is now planning to create the UK’s own ”year Zero” with a modern twist – by leaving the EU after such a long time Britain will have start from scratch – and use modern technology to survive. His ARPA project will dictate where we go in the future.

The author Naomi Klein wrote about “disaster capitalism” in her book The Shock Doctrine, as described here.

Now Cummings, who spent 1994-1997 in Russia, is putting “disaster capitalism” theory into practice. And, of course, chaos serves the Russian political machine, just as it serves the extremes of Western free-market capitalism.

You and I might find this rather scary but for Cummings the chaos is his seventh heaven – a once in a lifetime chance to reshape Britain while disrupting everything that could be said to be stable.

And at the moment the ” Goddess of Chaos” holds a lot of the cards – his worshippers include most of the Cabinet who are required to tweet their support like a mantra from a Greek chorus. And the ” Goddess of Chaos” even has two altar boys – Conservative right wingers Tom Harwood and Darren Grimes – to do his bidding and explain away his faults.

There is a final irony. The last General Election was fought on the lines of the danger of a left wing Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn destroying Britain and creating “chaos”. The negative campaigning by the Tories and right-wing press worked.

But what we will have now is such a cultural and chaotic revolution under Cummings that will make any perceived threat from Corbyn look like a Teddy Bears picnic.

How the raising of the pension age for 50s born women has fueled poverty, ill health and depression

Campaigners at the Royal Courts of Justice.

A new and highly detailed research study by King’s College, London reveals that the lowest paid women born in the 1950s are now substantially worse off because of the government’s decision to raise their pension age from 60 to 66.

The damning findings confirm why the BackTo60 campaign are right to highlight the inequalities and seek to overturn a judicial review in July which refused to provide any compensation for 3.8 million women.

Since the situation is now even worse because of the huge death rate among the elderly it also shows how sensible it will be for the organisation to highlight the issue in two films that will be backed by a crowdfunder. The link to their crowdfunder, which has already raised over £5000 is here.

The academics at King’s College compared the fate of those who had already retired at 60 with those who were having to wait for their pension until they are 65 or 66.

They found the change in pension age widened inequality, increased poverty by six to eight points, caused much more depression and mental health issues and also made people more likely to succomb to additional health problems like diabetes or arthritis.

It was specifically bad for women who had to work longer in low paid jobs often involving manual labour, such as working in care homes.

In their academic language it says the “increases had a negative impact on health: women aged 60–64 years are no longer eligible to collect their pension due to the reform exhibit worse mental and physical health scores (PCSs) and higher prevalence of clinical depression than women of the same age unaffected by the reform.

Moreover, longer extensions of SPA [ State Pension Age] led to higher declines in mental health than shorter extensions. Crucially, the negative health effect of SPA postponement is confined to women from lower-grade routine occupations, and it is largely driven by longer exposure to adverse psychological and physical stressors. As a result, the reform had the undesirable consequence of increasing health inequality by occupational grade, as evidence points to a 12 percentage-point increase in the probability of depressive symptomatology.”

You can read the report, published in Health Economics, here.

Michael Mansfield

It should put a spring in the step of lawyers like Michael Mansfield, who are fighting for BackTo60 in the forthcoming judicial review appeal and its findings ought to worry the Department for Work and Pensions as it exposes the damage they have done. Though making anyone there or in Downing Street remorseful for anything is a tall order.

On Byline Times: The sad irony that coronvaris could force the closure of the UK’s leading smallpox immunologist’s museum

Edward Jenner’s house. Pic credit: Facebook

Today Oxford University’s Jenner Institute – named after smallpox vaccination pioneer Edward Jenner – is receiving millions of pounds to find and develop a vaccine to cure covid-19.

Yet at the same time the small charity running Edward Jenner’s home and museum has been so badly hit by the lock down that it is facing permanent closure – all for the sake of a few thousands pounds. And the World Health Organisation celebrated the 40th anniversary of the eradication of the disease this weekend – nearly 200 years after Edward Jenner worked out a vaccine.

Full story on Byline Times. The charity also has a crowdfunder here if you want to contribute.

Covid-19: NHS chaos and DWP indifference lead to tragedy for one 50s born woman

And why the BackTo60 Facebook crowdfunder is essential to bring these sad facts for many more to light

The family of Ray and Lesley Myers with daughters Nicola and Jenny in happier times.

This is a tragic tale that I suspect is being repeated across the UK now we have the largest number of deaths in Europe. It gives a little glimpse into the human cost behind the cold harsh statistics of the daily death toll. Her daughter contacted me and she agreed to be interviewed.

Ray and Lesley Myers thought they had their retirement well planned. He would get his pension at 65 and one year later she would get hers at 60.

He was a successful Welsh speaking self employed builder in North Wales. They had a comfortable four bedroomed house and two lovely daughters.

Then at 60 Ray developed cancer and was unable to work. They downsized from their four bed house to a one bed apartment in Chester.

Through the help of the NHS Countess of Chester Hospital & The Hospice of the Good Shepherd he was tackling his cancer and they were still looking forward to many more years together.

This winter Ray got pneumonia and went into the Countess of Chester Hospital. He got better , came out of hospital, but then fell ill again and was re-admitted.

Unfortunately for him he came back just as the Covid-19 was starting to spread across the UK. The doctors there also tried to press him to sign a ” do not resuscitate” form.

According to Lesley Myers the hospital did not have the right equipment to safeguard the staff or patients relying on paper masks and aprons. But they did regularly test him for Covid- 19. Three tests were negative, the last one was positive.

From there he deteriorated rapidly but his family heard nothing from the hospital and couldn’t visit him. Finally they allowed Lesley to visit him and provided her for the first time a gown and a medical mask. By then he was in a coma and close to death.

On April 7 aged 70 he died. The family have not been able to organise a proper funeral.

But the hospital have followed up her case and have got proper protection equipment and are changing the way they handle future cases.

Lesley then encountered all the problems from the Department for Work and Pensions. She was hours on the phone trying to claim bereavement benefit. The DWP just cut her off.

But they acted very quickly to stop his state pension,PIP, and ban her from being able to drive his mobility car. They still haven’t bothered to collect it one month later and it is parked at the apartment.

She found herself left with living on £420 a month – £320 from her own PIP as she is disabled and just £25 a week bereavement benefit. The widow’s pension has been abolished by the DWP. She has bills of £150 a month for council tax and another £100 for the apartment management charge.

She said :” How I am supposed to survive on this on this amount?
” I do have savings but do not know how long I will live for so do not wish to rely solely on this as I’m sure you can appreciate – I am only 64! “

“I am fortunate to have the support of my daughter and some savings but I ask you this for someone with nothing and all payments stopped immediately how would they now continue?
“I am very concerned for other people left in the same situation or worse off than myself.
” I do not like to complain, I have expressed my sincere gratitude to the hospital for their care and my daughters have raised nearly £3000 for them and the Hospice of the Good Shepherd in memory of my husband and in order to help them both at a difficult time.
I feel like a statistic, and this is not right. I am a person who also needs to survive”.

She said her situation would have far better if she had already got her pension as of right.

” I have supported BackTo60 for a long time and I feel it is disgusting that they changed the pension age without properly informing people. I have paid in since I was 15. We are entitled to that money and there should be full restitution.”

BackTo60 have just launched a £10,000 crowdfunder so they can keep the issue in the public eye right up until the judicial review appeal in July.

They intend to use the money for a film that will highlight how Covid-19 has made life worse for many 50s women already suffering in poverty and having difficulty making ends meet.

You can donate to the crowdfunder here. It is something that needs exposing.

On Byline Times: The £8m contact tracing app contracts for Covid-19 and plans to outsource its management

NHS contact tracing app being trialed in the Isle of Wight Pic Credit: Linked In

I have just had a forensic look at the contracts awarded for the controversial Covid-19 contact tracing app which is now being trialed in the Isle of Wight.

Among the surprises are the plan to allow a big Swiss company Zuhkle Technologies AG to take over its management and allow access for overseas engineers to monitor the app. And there is still the controversy over whether the decentralised Google/ Apple app should be used rather than a centralised NHS App collecting data from your smartphone.

Full report on Byline Times and a link to two of the main contracts.

Exclusive on Byline Times: How a highly controversial contract to collect data on thousands of English Covid-19 hospital patients was never put out to competitive tender

Image by Syaibatul Hamdi from Pixabay

An expose by The Guardian earlier this month revealed that confidential data from patients being treated for Cofid-19 in England was being collected and processed by tech companies – two of which were highly controversial companies.

Now after persistently chasing up officials NHS England have admitted that the contracts which involved the US company Palantir – run by Trump supporting right wing billionaire Peter Thiel – and British start up Faculty – which has links to Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser – were never put out to tender.

Read how they did it on Byline Times here

Coronavirus: Why more than ever BackTo60 were right to challenge that judicial review decision over #50sWomen pensions

My radio interview which is now on the BackTo60 site

One of the most disturbing things coming back to the UK after nearly three months is how the country is now gripped in an inevitable lock down without any sign of an exit – as this nasty virus – Covid-19 – takes a grip on the nation.

For women and men in their 60s the situation is particularly dire. They should be protected but are not. Instead they have the problems of either being pushed out of work and put at the mercy of the hopeless and half finished Universal Credit system or the government’s long delayed payments for the self employed for any money.

They know they are a high risk group recognised by the World Health Organisation ( WHO) but they are caught between surviving on savings or going out to work – including for the NHS and in care homes – knowing they stand a greater chance of getting the virus. The two scenarios I illustrated in my article for Byline Times.

But probably the most pleasing thing that happened while I was away was the decision of the Court of Appeal to grant an appeal from the two 50swomen on behalf of BackTo60 on all grounds after the disappointing judicial review decision. which rejected their case.

The women I know have a long wait until July for the hearing but if they hadn’t taken this step they would be nowhere under this present Tory government.

The applicants at the time would not have known how damaging the coronavirus would be but fortunately they got their right to appeal before the courts closed down to hear most new cases. The latest situation at the Court of Appeal can be seen in their latest briefing( April 17).

The fact that BackTo60 has got an appeal on all grounds is significant given the judicial review rejected their case on all grounds and the judge who decided this also wanted to stop an appeal.

Lawyers for the claimants were confident that they could win permission to appeal – and they were right.

At the time detractors – many of whom should have known better – were making wild claims about the crowd funding appeal – which was set at a specific figure on the advice of the lawyers- and trying to stir up animosity against BackTo60. They did not succeed and the result is the issue remains very much alive.

The other key result is that for the government the issue will have to be faced again – ministers have not succeeded in squashing the campaign in the courts. The government knows it will have to argue its case again and 3.8 million women will have a voice at the Royal Courts of Justice to say why they were mistreated and swindled out of their pensions.

I have given a radio interview which is also on BackTo60 and you can listen to it at the top of this blog.

50s women dancing in front of the Royal Court of Justice after the judge granted their request for a judicial review the first time